According to the list of 67 recommended amendments to the novel tabled at the last meeting of the panel formed by the education ministry to review the novel's use as a Form 5 textbook, amongst these are passages touching on Hindu gods and rituals.
One example they cited was the depiction of the marriage ceremony between Manian and Malini (pages 227 and 228 of the student's edition) that described the bride and groom on a dais decorated with mango leaves, that the author described “to be linked to Kaman, the Hindu god of love”.
They cited another passage that they called culturally misleading, in the section describing a prayer to the god Palikai after the ritual of Ankurarppanam, that the author Abdullah Hussain had described as a worshipping ceremony performed with a ceramic urn filled with the shoots of nine different grains.
The panellists' annotation read, “(With regard to) Facts and culture. Avoid giving information that are misleading,” to explain why they recommended the names of the Hindu deities in the related passages to be removed.
However, the panellists' recommendations, that Malaysiakini acquired from an ethnic Indian panel member Uthaya Sankar, did not elaborate why they found those passages misleading.
'Bumiputera' term alien to 1910
It is understood that Uthaya and two other Indian panellist were invited to the panel as representatives of the Indian community, and tasked with rooting out elements that are sensitive to the Indians.
Their recommendations were among 100 that were proposed, some also touching on 'Book 1' and 'Book 2' of the novel that described how the Malays and Chinese lived in the times before independence.
The other Indian panellist were Aminuddin Baki Global Education Centre director NS Rajendran (right) and former education ministry officer G Krishnabahawan (below).
The trio also pointed out another passage that they claim to be “an embarrassing factual error”, in referring to the Indian cracker papadam as “papadom”, that they says is a British term.
Others parts of the novel singled out by the three are what they described as attempts to make moral and religious assertions, such as the passage that reads “tuak (alcohol) is prohibited by the religion” and depictions of Maniam praying.
The 12-page proposed amendments also argued that it is improbable that the novel's character Maniam was from the pariah caste in India, as it is inconsistent with the character's life as depicted in the novel.
As an example, they point out that in the novel Maniam had travelled to Tanah Melayu out of his own volition, something they said a true member of the pariah caste at the time would not have had the freedom to do.
Amongst the other recommendations are to:
- Replace the word 'bumiputera' with 'residents' as the concept did not yet exist in 1910, the year the novel is set in
- Remove the words 'Brahma caste' as it is an erroneous rendition of the term 'Brahmin'
- Remove the words “chew betel leaves like a cow”
- Remove the words “dark-skinned” as a reference to Indians in the novel
- Remove the words “anjing orang putih” (dog of the Englishmen) used in reference to an Indian character
In their conclusion the three ethnic Indian members reminded the panel, without going into specifics, that they have to ensure that the textbook blurb - about how the story contains "values of 1Malaysia" - remains "a dignified blurb and not a blatant political propaganda tool”.